Who knew Panama City has so much to offer?! This is what we ate, where we slept, and what we did -- which also all double as reasons why we're excited to go back.
by Mandan Lynn on October 4, 2013
We got to Panama City without a reservation, figuring we'd stop by the Deville, where we've stayed before and loved, and get a room there. Well, we got there and the rooms were $30 more than listed online (if I'd booked online, I would have gotten that savings). Anyway, that made it kind of high, so we set out to find a new place.Driving around the city isn't fun anyway, and when you're trying to find a hotel, it's even worse. So we parked and walked, and came across Las Huacas.The desk worker was so friendly, and the room was $80 per night -- about what the Deville would have been had we booked online. So we got the room.It was clean and spacious. The bed was not the most comfortable ever, but it wasn't bad. The bathroom was a little small, and you have to be patient with the hot water. There was a window in the bathroom that allows you to see into nearby windows -- I never saw any people in those windows, but it was just something to be a little bit aware of!Breakfast was included with the room, and the spread had coffee and juice as well as bread, eggs, cereal, and more -- but we were on our way to Gamboa and brunch with our friends, so we just had a little coffee.Overall, we had a great stay. The staff was so friendly and helpful -- I really can't stress enough how impressed I was with all of them. We like to try different hotels depending on our needs when we're in the city, but it's definitely a place we'll keep in mind for another stay.
by Mandan Lynn on June 24, 2013
I'm not sure if this tour is something that happens all the time, or if it was just for this weekend, but I found out about it online and thought it would be a great opportunity for us to check out Casco Viejo. My aunt and sister were arriving in Panama that weekend, and my boyfriend and I hadn't spent much time in the city, so it would be an opportunity for all of us to get familiar with that area.As it turned out, we spent most of the early part of the day walking around Casco Viejo, anyway, so we had already seen quite a bit of it by the time we met up with the tour at 5:00pm at Tantalo.The tickets were $25 each, and I had bought them online the day before. I knew about the tour nearly a month in advance, but you know how those things go -- I ended up not getting around to buying the tickets until it was almost too late. But I looked at them a few times, and the prices changed: they started at $30 each. Then at one point they were doing a buy one, get one half-price. Then suddenly all tickets were half-price, but the full price was $50. At any rate, I paid $100 for four tickets, under the impression that it was a mini-pub crawl, as well: the first advertisement I had read about the tour said that the price included a drink at each of three bars. When I finally bought the tickets, it said "one complimentary drink."As people filed in for the tour, we felt in over our heads: they were coming in with big cameras and cases, and we had three cameras between the four of us, none of them bigger than a deck of cards. The group organizer, Alberto, made us feel right at ease about it, though, and even accommodated my aunt and sister by speaking in English. Guess what? Tour's in Spanish! We were the only native English speakers there. I had started to suspect that when all the information on the ticket-buying website was in Spanish, but I remained hopeful for the sake of my non-Spanish-speaking family members. I had warned them of the possibility, though, and they still wanted to go through with it.We started on the Tantalo roof for a brief welcome and a few photography tips from a professional photographer. He made himself available throughout the tour to look at the photos you were taking and offer advice, and he occasionally would say, "look here, watch this" and take a photo and show it to us to illustrate one photography point or another.We also had a tour guide, so when we stopped at various points she would share some history with us -- in Spanish and English. We also got to go inside the ruins of the Santo Domingo church and convent, which we were then told is usually not allowed for the public. Indeed, the gates were all closed up earlier in the day when we had passed by.As it got dark, we made our way back to Tantalo for that complimentary drink -- either a beer or a rum punch. We enjoyed that, then made our way toward Ego y Narciso, the restaurant Alberto recommended to us.It wasn't quite what I had expected: I was thinking more pub crawl and more photography advice. But it was still awesome. I took pictures of things I never would have thought to photograph -- it's like it gave me permission to take pictures of doorways and people and strange things, to look at all of that from an artistic standpoint rather than just a recording-of-my-trip standpoint. Falling-down buildings or piles of rubbish don't always record the trip that well, but they are beautiful and artsy and it was fun to see things in that way.I do think that even at $25 it was a little overpriced, but they are offering prizes to the best photographs!
We arrived at Tantalo to meet up with the photography tour we were taking later that day. The first thing you'll notice -- as we did -- is the hip vibe and trendy, creative decor, including a wire mess of lightbulbs (see the picture), a living wall, and a bathroom area so confusing that you might run into the mirror.We got there early, so we looked over the menu and for awhile thought we might end up back there for dinner -- it all looked really good. I'll update you on the food next time we're in Panama City.We realized after being there awhile that it's also a small hotel, so we're looking forward to returning for that purpose, as well. From glancing around (a wall of plants!) and reading on their website, I'm very impressed by their commitment to sustainability: reusing and recycling as well as creative touches like key-card activated electricity in the rooms.Anyway, our photo tour ended here, as well, and we enjoyed drinks on the rooftop bar, which offers a great view of the city, a cool breeze, and a refreshing rum punch.The most impressive thing about this place is how badly it made me want to go back!. With our rooftop time, I got such a small taste of everything they have to offer here, and I look forward to also eating and sleeping at Tantalo.
We had already picked out a restaurant to enjoy in Casco Viejo when a new friend recommended Ego y Narciso. He said they served Peruvian food and he highly recommended it, so we changed our plans and headed over to Plaza Bolivar to look for the yellow umbrellas.There they were on the corner. There was indoor seating, as well, but the night was gorgeous so we sat at an outdoor table. The waiter was prompt and professional, if not especially friendly.We studied the menu for quite awhile. It didn't really strike me as being Peruvian food, but my boyfriend reminded me that our friend said it was food with a Peruvian influence. Okay. Everything sounded fantastic, so who cares?The best thing about dining with family is that you all get to try everything without feeling bad and sometimes without even asking.My aunt ordered the chicken ravioli, the dish our friend had specifically recommended. The sauce was rich and the ravioli were filling, even though there were only a few in the bowl -- and she even shared them with us. I'm not much of a pasta fan, but this was very tasty.My sister had the sea bass, which came with polenta and palm hearts. The palm hearts tasted as if they'd been roasted -- they were the best palm hearts I've ever had, and I love palm hearts anyway. The fish was excellent, and collectively we decided that her meal had the most original, delicious flavor of any of the meals on the table.My boyfriend had a steak with potatoes. He ordered a medium-rare steak, but it was quite rare -- rare enough that I didn't even try it. I just tasted the potatoes and the gravy sauce: yum.I had the tuna, which is kind of a weird choice for me as I don't really consider myself a seafood fan. For some reason, it just sounded good, and it was. It arrived on a bed of veggies, including eggplant and zucchini.All our plates were clean by the time we were finished.The bill was nearly $90, and that was just the four entrees with only one glass of wine (for my boyfriend). So, a little expensive, but the food was very good and we all left very happy and too full for even the ice cream from a shop that our friend had recommended.I have to recommend it, just for the quality of the food and the stellar presentation, as you can see in the photos. If you're on a budget, though, you're probably going to want to skip it.
We had no plan for lunch, but by luck we happened to pass this place when we were hungry and had just started asking the "Where should we eat?" question.It was well past the lunch hour, but there were still several people in there, enjoying a meal and keeping the four (at least) women behind the counter hopping around.It has a great feel, like a coffee shop the way coffee shops were before the big coffee chains kind of ruined it -- and indeed it does serve excellent Panamanian coffee, juices, smoothies, and more.The menu is written on a chalkboard and includes breakfast all day! I was tempted by their variety of English muffin sandwiches, and my sister went for the French toast. My boyfriend wanted the daily special -- fish with rice and a salad -- but they had run out during the lunch rush, so he settled (oh, poor guy) on a club sandwich (hold the cheese and the mayo).I had a Greek salad and my aunt got another of the daily specials, the grilled cheese and lentil soup (which could have been tomato soup, which is what I would have done in this case). She enjoyed both very much. I had a bite of the grilled cheese and I have to say, they do it up right. Not that it's hard to make grilled cheese, but I've got to admit I've ruined a couple of them in my own kitchen by not buttering the bread enough (trying to be healthy and all) before putting it in the pan. You've got to go for it with the butter, I think, and they did. Really yummy.We all really enjoyed our meals -- so simple, but so well done. The sandwiches were on white bread, but wheat bread was an option for an additional 49 cents.As we finished, my boyfriend decided he needed a cup of coffee, so my aunt, sister, and I shared a chocolate banana milkshake. It was great -- no ice cream, no extra sugar (that I could taste), just the simple beauty of a banana and some milk and some organic chocolate, which they also sell in bars.They have a few other products for sale, as well, like organic honey, coffee, tea, and more.I love the feel of this place and the taste of it. I know there are a lot of restaurants in the city, and even yet in Casco Viejo, that I will have to try, but it would be hard for me not to return to this place
The Panama Canal is, of course, a must-do while you're in Panama, so we took advantage of my aunt and sister being here to see it ourselves, as well.We took a cab from our hotel to the Miraflores Locks and visitor's center. It cost $20 and took about 20-30 minutes. Our driver asked if we wanted him to wait -- that seemed strange, since we didn't know how long it would take. We took his card in case we needed to call him, but when we left there were drivers there who took us back. They weren't in official yellow cabs, but our way-home driver was in a uniform shirt (don't know what it said, but there were other guys waiting at the bottom of the stairs in the same shirt) and he charged us the same $20 that the cab driver did, so it worked out great.The line to get tickets was long. It went quickly, but I was surprised at how many people were there at 10:30 am on a Saturday. There are different prices for Panamanians and foreigners and for adults and students, and there are different ticket options, as well. You can just get access to the observation deck, or you can get the full visitor's center package, which includes the museum and the 3-D video. Those tickets are $8, and that's what we did.Retirees get half-priced tickets, and my aunt qualified for that. I had heard it was only for residents on pensionado visas, but as it turns out they honor the senior citizen no matter what country you're from. Just be ready to show your ID -- I'm not sure what the cut-off age is for that little discount, but she made it.As we got inside (you have to go through a metal detector, so leave your weapons at home), a man directed us up to the observation deck because a small ship was going through the locks. Everyone hustled up there, and there were a lot of people. The observation deck is big, but it was hard to find space against the railing to watch the locks opens and close -- which isn't a terribly speedy process, so once someone has their vantage point, they don't move until they get bored.I'm not sure how much you know about the canal, so I'll give you a quick run-down on the basics. I had no idea how it worked, either, until I moved here. If you're up on the engineering, feel free to skip a the next paragraph.The canal runs through Lake Gatun, which was already in place when the canal was dug -- which is part of what made it a logical place to dig, because with the lake taking up such a huge chunk of space, they didn't have to dig as far. However, the lake is higher than sea level. Therefore, there are three different series of locks in place, which block the water with big doors. These doors open, and a ship enters -- the ship is now in a little blocked off space with enormous (700-ton enormous) gates in front and behind it. Then this area fills with water so the ship slowly rises up to the level of the water behind the next doors. Then that door opens and the ship enters the next space with doors in front and behind it. More water enters this space until the ship is at the level of the water beyond the next doors, at which point those doors open and the ship passes through. And so on. Brilliant.Fun fact, which I learned in the museum: the Panama Canal is the only place in the world where captains give over control of their ships to the professionals at the Canal, who are specially trained to drive the ship through the locks.After we watched the ship for a bit, we went back downstairs and to the 3-D movie. It was, quite possibly, one of the worst 3-D movies I've ever seen in my life. I mean, A for effort, but come on. The information was kind of all over the place, and all I remember about it was the animated host -- and I don't even remember his name. There wasn't even very much three-dimensional action. But, it was just 15 minutes or so of my life, and we were on with it.We then went to the museum, which was well put-together with a lots of great information. The highlight was the simulator, which you could get a sense of what it felt like to take a ship through the canal. I didn't get as much of it as I would have liked, because there were still a lot of people and it was hard to stand still for too long in front of any one thing to read it.There are four levels to the museum. We had planned to stay for lunch and watch the ships, but there were no more ships coming through at that time, plus the restaurant seemed to be closed (though it was after noon). The upstairs snackbar didn't really have enough substantial stuff, so we decided to go elsewhere for lunch (see the entry in this journal about the restaurant Beirut). We later heard from a friend that the restaurant offers an okay buffet for $38 per person.Our visit didn't take nearly as long as I'd expected. I suppose we would have stayed longer if we could have seen another ship, but at the same time that is a process that takes awhile and once you've seen it -- well, you get it. Unless you just like looking at big ships, I guess. Which, granted, is kind of cool.My favorite part was the museum, which was quite educational for me. You can't come to Panama without visiting the Canal, so I recommend this 100%. Just know that you can be in and out of here in a couple of hours if you want to be -- it doesn't have to be an all day event.
We stopped in La Rana Dorada because it was the first watering hole we saw as we approached Casco Viejo after we had walked all the way from the Financial District along the Cinta Costera. We would have been happy with a little restaurant or even a convenience store, but my boyfriend was over the moon when he saw it was a little brewery.We sat down and the waitress immediately brought us a sample of each of their four beers. I liked the dark one, with its hints of chocolate, but not enough to order a full pint -- as you may know from reading other journals, I'm not much of a beer drinker. So my aunt, sister, and I ordered a pitched of white sangria. It came with melon, pineapple, and apples and was so delicious and refreshing. The pitcher provided the three of us with about three half-glasses a piece. My boyfriend had a pint of their pale ale, and then the pils.As we waited for our drinks to arrive, we realized they weren't even officially open yet! The waitress came over to apologize because it was taking so long (actually, it hadn't yet even taken long enough for us to notice it was taking awhile) -- but it was because they weren't really opening until noon so they still had some things to do. I think we arrived around 11:30 and probably had placed our order by 11:40. The waitress was so sweet and nice. We decided not to eat lunch here since we weren't that hungry yet, but my eye did glance the menu when we were ordering drinks -- I saw they have pizza, but I'm not sure what else.I'd love to go back here for another pitcher of sangria (maybe red next time) and to try their food. While you're there, go to the bathroom: the sink is made out of a keg.
I've been itching to visit this restaurant ever since I heard about it, and we finally got the opportunity. It didn't disappoint.We went for lunch on a Saturday, so it wasn't nearly as busy as it was, say, the night before when passed by. It's a huge restaurant, with lots of indoor and outdoor seating. We opted for indoors since they were working on the sign with loud tools when we happened to be there -- but it was totally peaceful inside.The place is beautifully decorated, and we enjoyed a booth-like table (I sat on the couch-like side). We were at a loss at first about what we should order. My aunt and sister don't know Spanish at all, and the menu is too large to translate for them item by item. My sister said she was hungry for fish, so I told her all the fish options and she went with shrimp in garlic sauce, which came with a salad and rice. Brent got a mixed grill: lots of lamb, chicken, and beef kebabs. I ordered a combination platter for my aunt and a different one for myself. I didn't really know what would be on it, because while I can read Spanish, I have no idea about the names of the Lebanese dishes! So it was to be a surprise for all of us -- a great surprise.There were probably seven different things on each platter. The waiter brought them out first (sadly, because I had to share more than I would have if all the food had come together!) and we dug in. I recognized hummus, yogurt, falafel, and the fried eggplant, but I still can't tell you what all the rest of the things were. I can tell you, however, that they were all delicious. We split things up as best we could and I think I got to taste everything. I wish we had just ordered four of these (there are five combo platters on the menu, each for $14) -- or even three. We probably could have gotten away with three and not felt stuffed. Four might have put us over the top. As we finished, the other dishes arrived for my sister and boyfriend. We all shared those, too, so I had half of a salad (very good -- whatever dressing and spices were on there made it totally different from the house salad in your average restaurant) and a bite of shrimp (fantastic sauce!) and a piece or two of my boyfriend's kebab. I'm not eating a lot of meat these days, but the spices on that kebab were fantastic -- made it hard to stop! We ended up taking a lot of that meat home.That was the end of our order, so we thought we were done. What a surprise it was, then, when the waiter brought us each a little cup of warm sweet tea. A great finished touch -- but that wasn't all! He also brought us each a small dessert. I don't know what it was called, and it'll sound funny when I explain it, but trust me when I tell you it's awesome: it's a cheese stick, basically, in a warm honey sauce and topped with a few pistachios. Awesome. You've got to try it. Our waiter was very attentive throughout the meal. Too attentive, you might say, since he stood just a few feet away and just kind of waited for us to need something. I think that was mostly because the restaurant wasn't very busy, but we did notice they have a large staff. The service wasn't what you'd call friendly -- not a lot of smiles or niceties -- but it was very efficient, prompt, and classy.The bill came to about $80 after the tip -- a bit steep for lunch, even for four people, but it was so good and so worth it. Besides, we would have spent the same amount if we had gone for dinner and we wouldn't have thought much of it in that case.Speaking of dinner, I wanted to go back here for it, but I was still pretty full by the time dinnertime rolled around. I am really looking forward to going back here next time we're in the city, and then I'll go straight for the combo platters.
We booked at the Deville for its central location and great rates (especially when comparing to some of the big hotels around us). Beside that, the rooms looked fantastic on their website, so we gave it a go.This was a smart move, and we knew it from the moment we stepped in the door.The lobby was spacious and clean, and decorated with some really cool pieces of furniture. The woman at the desk was incredibly friendly, and she spoke fluent English as well as Spanish. The valet took our car (and we didn't think about it again for three days) and we moved our stuff to the room.We decided to squeeze ourselves -- all four of us -- into one room to save a little cash, since we knew we wouldn't be spending a lot of time in the hotel, anyway. Well, there was no "squeezing" here. Not only was the Deville one of the only places I looked at that would allow four people in one room, the room was plenty big enough. Two queen beds plus a sitting area and large bathroom with closet and safe made us feel totally comfortable and not in the least crowded, even when we got my aunt and sister's suitcases in there. (They are visiting us from the states and had just arrived, so they had their luggage for the two weeks they'd be spending with us in Coronado plus another large suitcase full of U.S.-based goodies I had requested.)There were robes, plenty of shampoo, conditioner, and lotion, coffee and tea, and a well-stocked mini-bar (that we didn't touch, but still). The beds were very comfortable, and each had four cushy pillows. The sheets were soft and felt almost new.There was a business center downstairs with three computers (one faster than the rest). They didn't have a gym, but when I asked about it I was told they have a couple of machines that they would be happy to move into our room, and which we could keep for the duration of our stay. Now, I had remembered reading something about that online, but I hardly believed it so I had to ask. But it's true! Great service, and a great way around not having space for a gym.Another highlight of our stay was the buffet breakfast. It was included in our room rate and was enough to keep us charged through the morning. Each day we had a great selection of eggs (scrambled and hard-boiled), meats, cheeses, olives, cereal, yogurt, fruit, juice, coffee, bread (raisin, wheat, and white) and sweets (these varied each day, but included coffee cake, croissants, and donuts as well as tiny dishes of jello and custard). The waitresses were so friendly and nice and were always quick with the coffee and to clear the plates away.We all loved this place and would be thrilled to stay here again.
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